It’s so apparent that “Love Is Strange” is a work of love that it’s just a shame that the film isn’t better than it is. Directed by Ira Sachs and written by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, “Love Is Strange” is a very compelling story about families, love and how families deal with adversity.
“Love Is Strange” features John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as Ben and George respectively, who, after nearly 40 years together, finally marry. The film opens on their wedding day as the two prepare for their ceremony taking place in a small NYC park, followed by a reception in the home of Ben’s family. Ben is an artist and George is a music teacher in a Catholic school. After the wedding all seems well until George is called into Father Raymond’s (John Cullum) office. Word of his marriage has reached the archdiocese and Father Raymond is obliged to fire him. Everyone knew that George was gay and in a long-term relationship, but the school was willing to look the other way until the marriage made the relationship official. Neither George nor Ben is rich and living in NYC is very expensive, so they sell their apartment in the hopes of finding something cheaper soon. While George looks for another job, they are forced to split up physically…George staying with two gay cops who live in their old building while Ben moves in with his nephew, Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and Elliot’s wife, Kate, and teenage-son, Joey (Marisa Tomei and Charlie Tahan).
George is considerably older than his two roommates who seem to throw one party after another. To say he no longer fits into their lifestyle is putting it mildly. But Ben’s living conditions seem worse…not just for Ben, but for his family as well. Most NYC apartments are small (for the common person), and Kate’s and Elliot’s apartment is no exception. There’s not a lot of room for privacy with the addition of another person…no matter how loveable that person is.
“Love Is Strange’s” script and acting are extremely well-done. Sachs and Zacharias have created a very relatable story on many fronts and the actors carry out their roles flawlessly. Molina and Lithgow are extremely believable as the much in love couple put in an untenable situation—living apart after all these years. Lithgow is sheer perfection as the older dreamer of the two. In his own way, Molina matches him as the more down-to-earth partner. Marissa Tomei shines as the working-from-home successful author as well as a wife and mother. She truly captures the emotions of a woman trying to hold it all together without exploding. And young Charlie Tahan is fabulous as the teen-age son, struggling to make friends and trying to “figure it all out,” only to suddenly have his life upended when he is required to share his room with a 70-year-old.
The city of New York is also a major player in “Love Is Strange,” showing us the parts of New York that tourists don’t often see…the little neighborhoods and shops. Additionally, “Love Is Strange” is bolstered by beautiful piano solos throughout, often used to transition from one scene to another.
So how can this film, with all of its favorabilities, not be a total success? In one word: direction. Sachs has taken his beautiful script and doesn’t seem to trust it and his actors enough to just let them act and let the words speak for themselves. He tries too hard to be cute with lingering camera shots on random people which are distracting and meaningless. And sometimes the audience does need a clue as to what just happened without having to guess. I spent too much time asking myself, “What just happened here?” “Who are these people?”
“Love Is Strange” is a meaningful little film with terrific performances that could have benefited from another, different director at its helm.